SYDNEY: Australian authorities on Saturday detained Novak Djokovic ahead of his appeal against the re-cancellation of his visa, saying the tennis star’s opposition to vaccination could cause “civil unrest” and trigger a high-profile court showdown.
Djokovic returned to an immigration detention hotel in Melbourne for a second time on Saturday after visiting his lawyer’s offices as he continues to fight against deportation from Australia.
Having once failed to remove the unvaccinated 34-year-old from the country, Australia’s conservative government is trying again, while Djokovic is fighting back for the second time, with a new court appeal scheduled for Sunday.
After a late-night hearing on Friday following the decision of Immigration Minister to cancel Djokovic’s visa for a second time on the grounds of “health and good order”, a brief procedural hearing was held on Saturday morning.
The case has been transferred from the Federal Circuit Court and Justice David O’Callaghan confirmed the details agreed on Friday, with Djokovic’s team setting out their appeal by midday and Hawke given 10 hours to file his response.
The case will be heard from 9:30am (2230GMT) by the full Federal Court of three justices, a format that leaves little room to appeal any decision.
Immigration minister Alex Hawke claimed that Djokovic’s continued presence in the country could “foster anti-vaccination sentiment” and even spark an “increase in civil unrest”.
The scheduling of the hearing for Sunday means the Serb retains hope of beginning the defence of his Australian Open title on Monday, but his chances of going for a record-extending 10th win at Melbourne Park are currently hanging by a thread.
Djokovic’s legal team called Hawke’s judgement “irrational” and submitted a request for an injunction, delaying his deportation. The 34-year-old faces a potential three-year ban from travelling to Australia should he be deported and would only be permitted to return in ‘compelling circumstances that affect the national interest’.
Serbia alleges mistreatment
Earlier on Friday, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic accused Australia of “mistreating” the country’s biggest star, and a national hero.
“If you wanted to ban Novak Djokovic from winning the 10th trophy in Melbourne why didn’t you return him immediately, why didn’t you tell him ‘it is impossible to obtain a visa’?” Vucic said on Instagram.
Spanish great Nadal took a swipe at his rival on Saturday as players complained the scandal was overshadowing the opening Grand Slam of the year. “The Australian Open is much more important than any player,” Nadal told reporters at Melbourne Park.
“Australian Open will be a great Australian Open with or without him,” he added. Defending Australian Open champion Naomi Osaka called the Djokovic saga “unfortunate” and “sad” and said it could be the defining moment of his career.